Volkswagen Motorsport's Sebastien Ogier overcame illness and a clutch problem to secure victory on Rally de Portugal this weekend. It was his third win in succession and puts him in a strong position in the Drivers' standings.
Ogier went into the fourth round in the 2013 World Rally Championship still recovering from a bout of 'flu that forced him to skip last weekend's Fafe Rally Sprint, the 'warm-up event' for Rally de Portugal.
However, despite not being 100 per cent, he took the lead in the very first stage on Friday and in the end led for all but one of them, only briefly demoted to second when Mads Ostberg surged to the front in SS2. Ostberg's challenge though ended in the following test, when he rolled his Qatar M-Sport WRT Fiesta RS WRC. Ogier then maintained his hold on P1, and concluded day one, 4.4 seconds up on Dani Sordo.
Saturday saw the Frenchman consolidate his position and after Sordo went off the road in the opening test, Ogier ended the morning loop 14.1 seconds up on his team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala. He then proceeded to put in a push on the repeat runs and three stages win on the trot gave him a 34.8 second cushion ahead of the final day.
Sunday, however, was no walk in the park, and while he was now feeling better physically, a clutch problem in SS12, threatened to cost him the victory. In the end he lost only 30 or so seconds, and was back on it in SS13 with his Polo R WRC restored to full health.
Ogier eventually triumphed by 58.2 seconds and just for good measure he took the Power Stage win too. He now has 102 points in the Drivers' Championship, 54 up on Mikko Hirvonen with nine rounds left, while Volkswagen moves ahead of Citroen in the Manufacturers'.
“It's a perfect start and another superb weekend. It's been really complicated for us. I got here on Monday and I was completely kaput. I was not sure whether or not I could do the rally. But then I got better and better. The team did a good job, they were brilliant.
“Earlier today [when I had the clutch problem] I was really thinking that the rally was over for me, but luckily I was wrong.”
Hirvonen meanwhile took the runners-up spot, but while he was able to benefit from the problems that befell Latvala, who like Ogier, was also slowed by mechanical issues on the first loop on Sunday, he was too far back to challenge for the win:“I'm happy with the podium but we have to keep on working,” said the Citroen driver. “I'm not happy with the pace. Both my pace and the car, the rhythm wasn't perfect, although second place in the end is not too bad.”
Jari-Matti Latvala came through to take the final spot on the rostrum, and after a tough start to 2013, and the issues this morning, he was delighted to claim his first top-three result with Volkswagen: “I am definitely happy with third. It's my first podium [with VW]. On the power stage I really pushed. I've got to be happy with everything,” he stated.
Behind, Evgeny Novikov was fourth for the Qatar M-Sport WRT team, and while he was disappointed with his speed over the three-days, he was pleased with his position at the finish.
Nasser Al-Attiyah rounded out the top-five, with Andreas Mikkelsen coming in sixth on his debut in the third works VW Polo R WRC.
“I'm very happy with the weekend overall. We had a puncture in the last stage, but other than that it's been a clean rally. Good fun. I'm looking forward to Argentina and learning some more,” said the Norwegian.
Martin Prokop recovered from his problems on Saturday afternoon and took seventh, with Rally 2 runner Ostberg battling back to eighth. Ostberg had dropped down to 56th position after his off on Friday, but won three of the four stages on the final day to ensure he salvaged some points.
Khalid Al-Qassimi and Esapekka Lappi rounded out the top ten, the latter also taking the honours in the WRC2 class – more than 11 minutes up on Robert Barrable. Sepp Wiegand was third in WRC2, while former F1 ace Robert Kubica overcame a host of problems to take sixth in the class on his debut in the World Rally Championship.
In the other support categories, Bryan Bouffier took the WRC3 win, while in the JWRC, which finished at the end of Saturday, Pontus Tidemand claimed the victory.
In terms of retirements, Dennis Kuipers and Michal Kosciuszko were both forced out with mechanical issues within sight of the finish.
Sordo and Thierry Neuville – like Ostberg – were classified under the Rally 2 regulations, coming home 12th and 17th respectively.
The WRC now moves to Argentina next month for round five, with that event running from May 1-4.
To view the result for the 2013 Rally de Portugal - CLICK HERE